On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

If It's Worth Doing, It's Worth Doing Badly

I don't know about you, but I find the most pushback to writing when I need to start a new project. It's tough -- I don't know what it's going to look like, and yet I want it to be *P*E*R*F*E*C*T*  I hate to imagine marring this image of what I want to accomplish with the reality of what it will be.

And so, I might procrastinate, maybe working around the edges but too afraid to dive in. And in case you're wondering, I also get into the pool this way, but have found once I dip down to get my shoulders wet I'm much happier.

WRITERS WRITE. If you are a writer, by definition you write. Now is the time when the rubber meets the road.

Some people will say that when you're doing a project, you just need to sit down and write until you have so many words, and if you're stuck you keep writing. This advice, while true in a sense, frustrates me because if you don't know what you're trying to say, writing more garbage won't help.

As the saying goes, you can eat even an elephant if you eat it in pieces. The trick, then, is to divide your project into so many small actions that you can work through it, one tiny thing at a time. So, how does one do this?

The first step before anything else is to write a specific sentence that describes what you want to do and why:

"I want to write a speculative short story of 5000 words that I can enter into XX contest."
"I want to finish this business article for work to advance my career (and so my boss will stop nagging me)."
"I want to write my novel so that I won't regret at the end of my life that I didn't do this."

Writing goals down is magic. I don't know why this is, but I've found that putting my desires in a tangible form dramatically increases the chances that I will reach them. Trust me, and do this.

Next, you need to develop your plan of attack. A short piece is easier than a long piece, but they both need to be planned at least in a primitive fashion. Sit down and think about your goals for your project. Make them achievable and not dependent on other people. For example, my short story goal might be to find an original speculative "twist" I haven't seen before, or to finish and polish the story before the contest deadline. I wouldn't state my goal to be winning the contest, because I have no control over that.

Now break apart that goal: what do you need to do in order to reach it? If I'm looking for a good "twist" I'd take some time freewriting to play with ideas I already like to find that new combination. If I have a deadline, I'll calculate how many words per day I need (and include a reserve of days for editing and skips as well).

Once you've got your goals, free write a rough outline of the project: one sentence for each major part. In a story there is a beginning, middle, and end, so three sentences. In a research paper there is introduction, methods, results, and conclusion. Then, keep breaking down each of these sections into smaller ones, and go for it.

Be cautious about getting trapped into too much planning though, because this can become more comfortable than writing. You've been brave enough to get into the pool, but sorry, you've got to get your shoulders wet now.

Choose your word count goal. I like to use weekly goals since this gives flexibility for a day off, but daily goals are also fine. 300 words per day, or 2000 words per week, are doable to start, although keep pushing these up as you get in the groove. Create a log. Do the daily writing. Keep doing it.

The hard part of writing (or many things) is starting. So start. If your project is worth doing it's worth doing badly.

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